The World Wide Hammers Family Xmas


SO, Kelly Holmes is the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year.  But who would get your vote for sports FAN of the Year? 

A good few Aussie-based Hammers fans would choose David Lewis who, when he couldn't see the Hammers on TV at home in Australia earlier this year, went and bought the TV rights himself. He was rewarded when thousands of West Ham supporters turned up at the venues he'd booked to screen the games, much to the media's surprise.


They shouldn't have been surprised, of course. To be a West Ham United fan is to be a member of a world-wide family, bound together by a love for this Club and all that it stands for. And so, with the benefit of internet access and cheap long-haul flights, you can be sure that at the same time as you are reading this message there are others doing the same who come from very different parts of the world to you.


Of course, supporting a club wasn't always like this. Things were much more parochial, and travel was nothing like as easy, particularly at Christmas.  There are many tales of the efforts people had to go to in the past to travel to games in far-flung parts of England at this time of year. I am indebted to one 'Northern Hammer', Gary Stewart (known to his friends as 'Norf' for some reason) for this account of travel to a match in Lancashire in the 1890s:


The story concerns Charles Sutcliffe, one of the game's great pioneers. At the time of the game he was the League's representative in charge of referees, and on the Christmas Eve he'd had word that a referee had fallen ill. Knowing that he couldn't find a replacement in time, Charles had decided he would have to officiate at the game himself. So he cancelled his plans for Christmas Day with the family, and set off in the freezing cold at nine o'clock in the morning to catch a long, slow, stopping train, which deposited him in a Lancashire town a little before noon.


After whiling away the next couple of hours in the deserted streets - no pubs for Charlie, who was a lifelong teetotaller - he made his way to the ground. He refereed the game, and then retired to the changing tent and sat there in the bitter cold, when the club secretary came in to pay the referee's fees. Charlie told him to keep the fee. The club secretary thanked him heartily, put the money into the players' Christmas box, and then asked him if he would like to join the players and officials to some hot-pot at the local hostelry.  Feeling cold and hungry, Charlie accepted the offer gratefully even if it was in a pub.

The hot-pot was delicious and most welcome, but with the pub crowd getting into the festive spirit he made his exit around 6 o'clock to wind his lonely way, down the dark streets which led to the railway station. The only illumination came from the Christmas lights peeping through the curtains of surrounding houses, from where he could hear the sound of Christmas parties taking place. At the station he had to wait an hour for the train. There was no fire in the waiting room, and as he paced up and down the dimly lit platform he said to himself "I left my family at home on Christmas Day and can't get back until 9 o'clock. I must be fond of football to make such a sacrifice as this! Still it was nice of the club to provide the hot-pot."


At that point came the sound of a man scurrying up toward the platform. It was the club secretary.


"Oh Mr Sutcliffe" he gasped breathlessly in the cold evening air.  "Ahm reet glad ah caught thee - tha's forgotten to pay us for th' hot-pot!"

Well, I hope that you have experienced some better examples of Christmas cheer than that this year - like the generosity of the fans at our last home game who gave a magnificent £14,507 on behalf of Joe Osben, the young Academy lad who was knocked off his bike last Summer and suffered severe injuries.


For me, the true Christmas story is about such generosity and care for others.  The baby in the manger is the supreme example of love - a love which has inspired countless people over the centuries. His story is about God reaching down in compassion to a suffering world because he cares about people, making himself vulnerable for us.  And it's about people responding with love and showing that same love in acts of generosity and care for the people around them.


Whatever your faith, I wish you and all members of the world-wide West Ham family a very happy Christmas and a blessed New Year. My prayer for Hammers fans everywhere - whether in Newham or New York, Accrington or Adelaide - is for exciting football, great results, and - above all - a spirit of generosity and compassion in us all.  As Alan Pardew puts it in his programme notes for every game, God bless…